I started reading comics in the early 70’s in collected additions of the daily strip (not actually a strip) Family Circus. Those collections introduced to me the concept of an overlapping story with sub-stories throughout. That early exposure to comic book storytelling has served me my entire life and influences my writing to this day.
I recently read a story about the new production of West Side Story on Broadway, and amidst all of the background, the writer spoke with Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim made a terrific point about shows, films, comics, etc. He said there are two things that when brought together make a great production, Story and Plot.
Take Hamlet for example. The story is about a guy who can’t make up his mind. The plot is this guy thinks his uncle killed his father. It makes perfect sense, and when you consider all of the great films, plays, and comics, they have both.
It was 1976. Ten-year-old Andre had been reading comics for a couple of years, mostly Richie Rich, Sad Sack, and Archie. But that day in the 7-11 when I spotted Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #216, was conscious altering. It was the first appearance of Tyroc, a Black Superhero, who was facing off with Superboy and some other characters I didn’t recognize and telling them to beat it. Wow! Amazing! That Mike Grell cover exploded off of the rack, defiantly showing someone who looked like me telling off the most powerful super-hero in the galaxy (Pre-crisis Superboy was a beast.) I instantly became a Legion fan, and I still collect it to this day.
Representation matters. That cover of Superboy literally changed my life. I’ve subsequently seen Mike Grell speak about the creation of Tyroc and his feelings about the character, and although I agree with his criticisms, it was still a powerful image to this Black kid.
It all leads to a larger point on how one never realizes how much they affect other people through tiny actions that may mean nothing to them but means everything to the affected person. I grew up on a strip on land with 4 houses outside of a small Mennonite heavy community. A single house was a rental and had multiple families living there over the years. At one point, a young family moved in with a brother and sister, Billy and Molly, who were close to my age. We became friends.
One night, I was invited over to spend the night. Me being me, I brought along a comic (I had been collecting for a year and thought I knew it all) which was, of course, a Legion book. It was the oversized reprint, Superboy and the Legion C-49 Limited Collector Edition. It was a reprint of the original Adventure comic that introduced Mordru as a major threat.
I took the book down to Billy and Molly’s house. We hung out, had dinner, ran around, and finally slowed down for bed. I pulled out the Legion book and read it to them. They seemed captivated, not sure if by my reading or the story, but not anything especially notable. That was my last memory of them.
Until I got a Facebook message from a guy named William. I didn’t recognize the person, but he went on to say that he was “Billy” from Maugans Ave. It was cool to hear from him. He was very excited to have found me. He told me the story of how that night that I slept over was life shifting for him. Apparently, his family was extremely religious, and when I brought that comic book over to read, it was the first time he had ever heard of any stories outside of the Bible. He said it opened his mind to so many more possibilities in the world. I was blown away. For me, it was simply another Legion story that I was excited to spread, but for him, it was a complete difference-maker. Crazy.
So, comics and superheroes can be life-altering in ways that one can never expect, and one can never ever understand how their actions can profoundly affect another person. So, treat people with respect and decency.
Long Live the Legion.
Andre Owens is the creator of the comics Force Galaxia and The Bovine Leauge, as well as the screenwriter of the forthcoming Screen Gems, feature film Reparations. He is a former Director of Photography who has been hiding out in Los Angeles for the past 22 years. His company website is at www.hirounlimited.com.